This is my BRAVE…
As I sit typing this blog, I’m contemplating the reasons why I decided to share my story. My story being a lifetime of tales chronicling the ebb and flow of severe depression. A depression that not only characterizes my life, but also defines it. It is truly a part of me; shaping my personality, influencing my viewpoint and coloring my opinions. It remains the only constant in a chaotic memoir of false starts and sudden stops that have rendered my life incomplete. Depression is something of which I have been ashamed and have tried to hide. I was living in darkness and publicizing my story brings me into the light. I am no longer hiding in shame, but instead bravely revealing truth with the intent of bringing hope to those who suffer from and awareness to a world that turns a blind eye to mental illness.
To tell, or not to tell…
Pondering the question
I invested an immensely large amount of time and energy into putting up a facade of normalcy surrounding my life. I didn’t want anyone to know that my life was far from the social convention of what is considered normal. At 36 years old, I have no job, I live at my childhood home with my Mom and my only income is from Social Security Disability, of which I was placed at the premature age of 26. Severe depression has ended my journalism career in its infancy, disrupted my professional and personal relationships and stunted my goals and dreams.
However, if asked how I feel, I respond with “fine” or “good” and force a fake smile. Why? I don’t feel good and my life truly is not fine, but I know the truth will send fear through those who inquire. People that have never had experiences dealing with mental illness feel unequipped at how to deal with people who suffer from them. Almost, as if, with one wrong comment or response, they could single-handedly send us into a spiralling demise. This fear stigmatises mental illness and ostracises those of us who suffer from it. It makes us lie about our condition and mascaraed as if our life experiences are equivocal to those within the status quo. It is a viscous cycle that fosters ignorance. It forces the mentally ill to remain silent about our suffering and in turn allows society to ignore our plight and ultimately creates a void in awareness. The more we remain mute, the less educated our world is about mental illness and more people are fearful, confused and lacking in knowledge. This is the rationale that I use to justify going forward and telling my story.
However, there is a small voice inside my head that argues back about fears of stigma. I don’t want people to know about my illness because they may fear me because of it. People may even discriminate against me in a effort to avoid dealing with the issue of mental illness. I think my biggest fear about coming forward with my story is the thought that my peers will gossip about me. I don’t want to be known as the “crazy” one. I don’t want to be pitied. I ultimately don’t want to be the one who is different. But the fact that I am different makes me crave understanding from others. It drives me to bridge the gap between the reality of my life and the majority’s perception of a normal life. I want to be treated with compassion, dignity and equality but I don’t want to have to live a lie in order to achieve it.
My turn to be brave
So I decide to be brave and tell my story publicly. I am given the opportunity to be interviewed by a local TV news reporter about a treatment I was receiving for my depression called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). After contemplating the decision, I agree to the interview. But I don’t want the world to initially find out about my illness through someone else’s voice, so I first want to come forward on my own. I decide to detail my struggle in a blog.
So I begin writing about the pain, embarrassment, and stigmatism that I have dealt with over the last two decades because of severe depression. As the words fly from my fingertips and across the keyboard, I start experiencing a new feeling… relief. Relief, finally, sweeps over me like the calm after a violent storm. I am free from my secrets as I hit publish on my first blog post. The details of my private life become public, for all to read, living on the World Wide Web. I feel an amazing rush that is difficult to describe, as I realize my words might help the suffering of others.
In an instant, I am hooked on the idea of advocating for mental health awareness.
By telling my story, my illness transforms from a detriment into an attribute. My experience with depression gives me power to help others. For the first time in my life I feel fully capable and knowledgeable. That’s right – capable – I said it. For the first time in a long time, I do not feel disabled. Storytelling has saved my life.
I am Rana Culotta Simpson, a 36 year old female living in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. I earned my BA from George Mason University in Communication and an MA from American University in Journalism and Public Affairs. I have worked as a content producer for two local entertainment Web sites, however my struggle with depression has created a lapse in my career. I hope to return to the journalism field very soon.